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This month in the garden - 2020

January in the garden

January is a time to reflect on the successes and challenges of the old year while looking towards our intentions for the new year. We're going in to 2020 on the wave of climate change awareness that has grown over 2019. As gardeners, we are in a strong position to take action that will help to shift our global food system and our perceptions around it. Growing our own food is a multi-layered positive action and provides many benefits on personal, local and global levels. Producing our own food organically gives us control of what we put in our mouths, provides nutrition and the added benefit of fresh air and exercise in the process. The soil gains fertility as we build organic matter and omit chemical fertilisers. Insects thrive as we reject insecticides and provide habitat; pollution is avoided food miles are reduced and the local economy is supported in the small scale trade in local produce.

With all that in mind, what are the jobs in the garden for this month? It is time to start sowing seeds for tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and peppers. Start them off in a greenhouse or under glass. They must be protected from frost. Start planning your summer veg beds and if you are planning to expand, get the ground ready now, while the weeds are sleeping. Sheet mulching with a thick layer of manure or compost, cardboard or black plastic is an easy way to get beds ready without digging. Pull back the top layer when spring comes and the beds will be ready to plant up. Spread compost or manure around fruit trees. Dig large deep holes and fill them with compost, ready to plant pumpkins in the spring. Get your tomato poles ready.

January is also the time to plan for new trees to be planted in February. Designing plant guilds gives new trees a support system so if you are planning to plant any trees, start thinking about guilds now and get all the component parts ready. Guilds are like companion planting but a little more complex. A guild is a group of plants that all work together, normally placed around a tree in the centre. There will be a nitrogen fixer, nutrient provider, shelter plant, ground cover, pest controller, insect host, sacrificial plant and insect attractor. You will also want to consider the height of each species starting with the tallest, your tree, in the centre and working outwards with the lowest at the outside edge. The plants in the guild can have more than one function. Comfrey, a great ground cover to smother weeds is also a rich nutrient provider. Chick peas are nitrogen fixers with the added benefit of being edible. Lavender is both a windbreak and an insect attractor. The sacrificial plant can be a fast growing tree that will provide shade until the other plants are established and will then be cut down. This could then be used as firewood. Fruit bushes, nuts, herbs, flowers and vegetables can be incorporated into your guild. Both perennials and annuals can be used and fungi can be utilised. You will want plants to attract pollinator insects and others that provide habitat for predators. Also to be considered is the depth of roots of each species in the guild. Some will want to be shallow feeders and other deep feeders to reduce competition for soil space. It's an intricate web of possibilities. Some plants may end up getting shaded out or some just may not thrive. But that's all part of the cycle and the guild will develop over time into a cooperative community.

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